A few days ago I was driving along a quiet street when a police car pulled out from the curb and came up behind me. I pulled to the side to let him pass, but then realized it was me he wanted to pull over. I hadn't run a light, I wasn't on my phone, I had bucked my seat belt, so I had no idea why he was pulling me over. It turns out my rear brake light was out (something you can't see while you are driving). The police officer wrote up a summons, but explained that as long as I get the light fixed within the next 24 hours, I wouldn't need to pay anything -- I could just mail in a note from a mechanic and would be off the hook.
My wife, who was in the car with me, took this in stride (she also got the car fixed the next day) and suggested it is a good mashal for teshuvah: Hashem writes up a summons, but as long as we fix the problem in the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah, we are off the hook.
I thought the mashal doesn't quite fit: The dispensation based on getting the brake light repaired is a tnai built into the ticket that automatically voids the offense. Teshuvah, however, doesn't work that way -- there is no automatic out. Teshuvah is like an extra-judicial dispensation above and beyond what the law allows, akin to appearing in court and being let off due to the mercy of the judge.
My wife's mashal is the ad v'ad b'chlal model: Teshuvah means we have complete control over whether that ticket gets cancelled or not -- it's built into the system. My approach is the ad v'lo ad b'chlal model: Teshuvah can take you most of the way there, but you still need the judge's intervention and mercy to get off.
2. While on the topic of teshuvah, one other point. Chazal say teshuvah is so great that it brings refuah to the entire world. The Shem m'Shmuel asks: So how is it that the churban havayis happened right under the nose of Yirmiyahu haNavi, with Yechezkel haNavi around as well? Surely these giants did teshuvah -- where was the effect on the world?
The answer is that teshuvah did effect the world of Yirmiyahu haNavi, of Yechezkel haNavi -- but we chose to live in our own world instead of theirs.
Everybody talks about "the yeshivishe velt" and this velt and that velt. There is a facebook velt and now a google+ velt. Teshuvah does bring refuah l'olam -- it's just a matter of whether you want to be part of that world or not.
Have an easy Tzom Gedalya today.